2 Complex Workouts That Build Muscle Fast

Movement complexes are brutally tough, but very effective at building strength and endurance.

Short on space or time but want to get super strong and conditioned? Look no further than movement complexes.

A movement complex refers to a group of exercises performed back to back without putting down the weights. It's brutally tough, but very effective. Here's why:

It Builds Muscle

During a movement complex, your muscles work—or are under tension—for 90 seconds to 120 seconds and rest for only as long as it takes to complete a set. A single complex comprises 3 to 5 exercises for either 10 reps for metabolic conditioning or 5 reps for a lesser metabolic effect and more power endurance.

Challenging your muscles in this fashion creates muscle damage and metabolic stress, which according to Brad Schoenfeld are two of the three primary causes of muscle growth. Muscle damage is caused by repeated contractions against resistance that make micro tears in muscle fibers, while metabolic stress is the accumulation of the byproduuct of repeated contractions—often referred to as a muscle pump.


Complexes are one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your conditioning. They task your energy systems with repeated movement, which develops your work capacity to make you a better conditioned athlete during tough workouts or late in games.

In fact, complexes theoretically mirror the effects of high intensity interval training (HIIT), because the time under tension, intensity and rest times are similar. A 2016 study found that hockey players who performed uphill sprint intervals saw maximum sprint speed increase by 12.1 percent compared to players who did their standard workouts.

How to Use Complexes

Athletes typically get through a circuit two to three times in one set. They usually perform movement complexes on days when they are fresh, since they are extremely taxing. Technique is always the main focus, so always stop or take some rest if you lose technique.

A movement complex would typically be used at the end of a session, after power and strength work is completed or as a warm-up if time is an issue. These are the only times when complexes are typically used, because strength can be compromised if you constantly pair multiple exercises together.

A sample movement complex with two dumbbells using 2-3 sets of 5 reps with a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio could consist of:

  • 5 Push-Ups
  • 5 Bent-Over Rows or Inverted Rows
  • 5 Squat Press
  • 5 RDL's

Note: If equipment is an issue, use a single dumbbell for all the exercises and complete 5 reps on each side.

An advanced sample movement complex with two kettlebells using 2-3 sets of 10 reps with a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio could consist of:

  • 10 Push-Ups
  • 10 Pull-Ups
  • 10 Squat Press
  • 10 Kettlebell Swings

Mix these complexes up each week and benefit from the results!